Caliban's Shore is a fragmentary story but a powerful one, and Taylor has diligently glued the pieces together. Like all good histories, it opens a window onto the past -- in this case the exotic, pestilential and perilous world of those doughty men and women who braved the high seas more than 200 years ago.
The New York Times
With the success of The Perfect Storm and other maritime stories, accounts of disasters at sea have felled many a tree. What sets this superb history apart comes from Taylor's extensive knowledge of Africa. He describes the endless tribal wars, the emerging tensions with the Dutch and, especially, the Wild Coast terrain.
The Grosvenor's passengers and crew feared shipwreck and death, but "shipwreck and survival was not a possibility that anyone had much considered." When the England-bound mercantile ship ran aground in heavy seas off Africa on August 4, 1782, death would have been easier for the 125 who made it ashore. Drawing primarily on two contemporary reports, British historian Taylor reassembles the Grosvenor's story with precision and vision, making each passenger a character and each incident a fate twist. Merchants and children, Anglicans and Muslims, officers and gentlewomen were stranded without weapons or food on shores inhabited by the Pondo tribe in present-day South Africa. Fearful that the peaceful natives would turn hostile, the survivors struck out along the coast for known European settlements. But the bad decision-making that had resulted in shipwreck produced more disaster, and, by the end, only 13 survivors of the wreck are accounted for. Over the years, as news of the fate of the Grosvenor and its passengers drifted back to Britain, the ship and its fate became legendary, even Dickens contributing. The book may not resonate for Americans as much as for more direct descendants of the British Empire, but Taylor has brought the ship and its survivors to modern eyes with this commendable work. Photos. Agents, Caroline Dawnay and Peter Matson. (July) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Looking at a map, one wouldn't think that a ship sailing southwest from India to round the Cape of Good Hope would encounter any great navigational hazards. The Indian Ocean is vast, islands and hidden reefs are few, and you could hardly expect to bump into the immense landmass of southern Africa. Nevertheless, one calm night in 1757, the sailing watch of the Grosvenor contrived to do just that. Travel writer Stephen Taylor delved into the archives of the East India Company to pull together not only an exciting shipwreck story, but the tales and conditions of most of the souls who were on board that night. The most interesting part of the story, however, comes after the Grosvenor pounded herself to pieces in the surf. Taylor specializes in Africa, and it is here that he really hits his stride. The huddled survivors had but to walk along a sandy beach for several hundred miles in order to reach safety in South Africa. However, native tribes, if not actively hostile to helpless white people, were certainly willing to strip them of their few possessions. The hardiest survivors soon broke up into several groups straggling southward while the weak gradually fell behind and the unlucky died along the way. What had begun as a routine passage to England soon became an epic survival story. The author's skill at portraying personalities at all levels, from nabob to barefoot seaman, makes this especially interesting. KLIATT Codes: SARecommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2004, Norton, 297p. illus. notes. index., Ages 15 to adult.
Raised in South Africa, British and U.S. newspaper correspondent Taylor (Shaka's Children) acts on his lifelong interest in the famous 1783 wreck of the 741-ton Grosvenor, an East India Company trade ship, off the far southeast coast of Africa. The result is an engrossing account of the truth behind the event. Most of those on board reached the shore safely, including 91 crew and 34 wealthy passengers, among them women and children. Once ashore, the tale takes intriguing twists and turns, and Taylor digs deep into formerly unpublished material and newfound stories left by some of the survivors to reveal their fate. Taylor nicely pieces together the various parts of this story, providing a solid analysis of the origins of the tragedy, relating the full story of those who returned, and unraveling the mystery of those who stayed. In the end, he provides more background on those who came to grief in the disaster than found in Percival R. Kirby's The True Story of the Grosvenor. Highly recommended for all nautical and South Africa history collections in academic and larger public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 3/1/04.]-Dale Farris, Groves, TX Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.